The worldwide express fleet: Part III

Two days ago, we began a three-part look at the jet freighter fleet operated by, or for, the integrated express companies. Part I looked at the way the combined fleet has changed over time, while Part II summarized the changes on a company-by-company basis. Today we look ahead at how the fleet will evolve in the coming years.

While the total number of freighters in the combined fleets of the integrated operators increased by twenty-five units over the past year, there was significant change within the fleets, as sixty-five freighters were added and forty were retired. In general, the retirements were of older types (BAe 146s, 737-200s, 727s, A310s, and MD-10-10s/-30s) and MD-11s, while the additions were primarily more-recent types, such as 737 Classics, 757-200s, and A300-600s, as well as two types currently in production (767-300F and 747-8F).

The most popular narrowbody freighter, and by far the most popular individual freighter type in the integrator fleets, by a huge margin, is the 757-200F, with 244 units now in service to the integrators, and many more on order. The 727-200F, once the mainstay of the express companies, is going in the opposite direction, and this once-dominant type will soon be little more than a memory. The most popular widebody remains the A300-600F, with 155 now in service. However, the seven A300-600s currently being converted to freighter configuration for Chinese carrier Uni-top will likely be the last of the type to enter the fleet. The secondmost- popular widebody freighter, the MD-11F, has passed its prime, and the current in-service total of 96 is down from 102 last year, and Cargo Facts expects the number will continue to shrink.

Two widebody types that will increase in number are the 767-300F and 777F. FedEx has forty more 767-300Fs on order from Boeing, and is rumored to want even more, and the recent 767-300BCF conversion orders by SF Airlines and All Nippon Airways (which uses the type in overnight express operation) are likely just the beginning of a renaissance. FedEx also has eighteen 777Fs on order, although it has postponed delivery of some of them. On the narrowbody side, we will see continued additions of 757-200Fs and 737-300Fs/-400Fs. And although there are no announced orders yet, Cargo Facts believes that, within a few years, orders will begin to build for A330-300, A321, and 737-800 P-to-F conversions.

One driver of future growth of the express freighter fleet, although it is hard to quantify at this point, is the exploding demand for express delivery in Asia. The citizens of China have taken to e-commerce with a vengeance, and the same is about to happen in India. Those two countries alone have a population of almost 2.5 billion, and neither is particularly well-served by surface shipping options. In China, several express delivery companies that currently only operate ground delivery services are planning to launch air operations, including YTO Express which has already acquired two 737- 300 freighters. And in India, if the government can stay out of the way, the same thing may happen.

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